(To Main Page)

 

TRIP AROUND THE SUN

 

37 of 52 – Jews - Reformed

 

Thoughts during the week:

 

The inclusiveness of the Seventh Day Adventists is still on my mind. I want this so much in my own ingrained church.

 

In college, my second year, I went without having set up housing. I had not been sure that I would have sufficient funds to go, and then I decided I would go ahead and try. I was picked up at the bus station in Provo by a “courtesy” car with an Athenian driver and one other. Asking where I needed to go, they found that I didn’t have a place yet – so invited me to stay the night at the Athenian House. During my one night stay there, they found that I’d gotten a mess of A’s the year before – and they thought I would be a good addition to the house, so they invited me to stay and live there, which I did. There were seventeen of us in a big three-story house on Center Street. There were many more Athenians than that, but only 16 lived in the House – plus one non-Athenian - I.

 

When “Rush” came, I was invited to join. It came with a cost $25.00 each semester, however. That amount was a full months rent, which I decided not to afford. But there was more than that. The Athenians were very exclusive – thought of themselves as better than members of other units and certainly better than those not accepted by any of the very selective units. I was never attracted to join exclusive groups. As I said last week, if I wanted to be an exclusive person, quoting Bill Cosby, “I wouldn’t join a group that would let me in.”

 

I lived in that Athenian house for the entire school year – both semesters – but did not join. I helped with math and science and English – which was stimulating to my own thought process as well. That helped “pay” my way, though I did also pay my portion of the rent, which was $25.00 each month. Because there were 17 of us, and many more Athenians who did not live in “the House,” we didn’t have to cook. Girls who were enamored at the thought of winning for “Belle of the Y” or “Homecoming Queen” gladly cooked for us in the hopes of being “sponsored.” The evening meal was always special there – and cost only the groceries. Even the groceries were only basic. The girls would bring their own “spices,” etc., and we didn’t have to pay for that. It’s funny in a way – that I enjoyed some of the benefits of being considered among the “exclusive,” while at the same time not thinking that a positive thing. Life is full of grey.

 

There was a Playboy magazine one evening sitting on the table. I noticed it just before our “cooks” were to arrive. I said something about maybe that magazine ought to be taken away before they arrived. Several laughed a little at my naivety – stating that to catch us with such a thing would only stimulate the girls and make us more attractive to them. One of these cooks eventually was one of the runners up in the Belle contest. The magazine was still on the table when they arrived that evening to cook. They said, “Bad boys – bad bad boys!” Some may wonder that I should include such a story in my thoughts here, but I believe that “need” for exclusivity leads also to an exaggerated need for acceptance – especially by the opposing gender. Understand, this unit, the Athenians, was mild and dignified when compared with a couple of others. There were many returned missionaries among them, and most of these were what we would expect them to be – still, they valued the association and the popularity that came from being included in an exclusive group.

 

All this came into my thoughts because there is a strong correlation between the need for exclusivity and these other forms of need - for attention and validation. In getting myself ready for a visit with the Jews, these thoughts came. The exclusivity that is part and parcel of being “The Chosen People” was on my mind. My own father on Earth may have on occasion had a favorite among his three sons – and which one was favored may have changed from time to time, but even he, an Earthly father, was smart enough not to advertise it for all the brothers to hear together. If God had “chosen” the Jews, He wouldn’t have told anyone about it. That would only be asking for trouble – and I don’t think we want to blame God for all this strife for thousands of years – do we? (The Old Testament is stories. God is not stupid.) Among the Muslims, of course, it is believed that it is they who were chosen and not the Jews – that it was not Isaac taken by Abraham for sacrifice, but Ishmael. I choose to believe that it was neither.

 

 

When I joined the Church at 12 years old, I didn’t know in any clear way that this church regarded itself as being selected by God to be the only one with the “authority” to do His sacred work – that the ordinances of all the others were invalid. I heard the testimonials, but the principle did not click. My becoming more clearly aware of this was such a slow process that it was largely ignored, and as a young teen wanting to be the first missionary to leave from our branch, I “bought into it.” That’s with respect to “having the truth” and wanting to “share” it with all the uninformed people of the world. I did love those people in West Virginia, but I wish I could do it all over – and know how informed many of them were, and what I could learn from them and what I could thank them for.

 

 

I have it on good authority that the Jews think it is not we, but they, who are the “correct” ones. I’m looking forward to learning what I can.

 

 

The visit: Temple Adat Shalom.  15905 Pomerado Road, Poway. (Reformed Jewish)

 

They could not have made this more informative. They could not have landed on a more apropos subject for The Trip Around the Sun.

 

Taking notes was most difficult. The reading was fast – half in Hebrew – half in English. The Hebrew portions were written both in actual Hebrew characters, (Almost as illegible to me as oriental characters – though an alphabet), and in English phonetics to make it possible for the rest of us to verbalize what we didn’t understand. If I took a note – It was near impossible to find my place and be ready when there was actual English to participate in. As a result, most of this report will depend on how well I can remember what took place. Some was memorable enough that I would not forget.

 

The music, to me, was not musical at all. There was precious little melody and no harmony at all – kind of like cantor – with I, as well as most of the others I think, using the phonetic help to say the words. This was interspersed among regular spoken words – about half in English and half in Hebrew.

 

In a smattering of notes, I got the following:

 

“Let not the tears, that must come to every eye, blind us to Your goodness.”

 

“You are the First and the Last. Besides You, there is no Redeemer or Savior.”

 

“But not a dog shall snarl at any Israelites, at man or beast – in order that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”

 

   ! ! !

 

(I wondered what would be thought if we told them that our position is to agree with that second quote – that their God is Jehovah – and the only Savior. Remember the “Unknown God”?)

 

And then the meeting took, for me, a more interesting turn. It was time for the reading of the Torah, over which I was chided for my reference to it as the Old Testament in later discussion.

 

The Rabbi, a woman who reminded me markedly of Yentl, asked for volunteers for several functions. One would remove the “Ark” from the shelf on which it was stored. Another would remove the Scrolls from the Ark. Another would open the scrolls. (Or scroll – I don’t know if it’s plural or singular – two sticks – probably only one scroll.) Another ceremoniously opened the Torah – placing decorative parts of it on special holders to await replacement after the reading. Another would then read from the Torah exactly where it opened to – and move it forward for the next opening. A special band was put on to hold it in its place. After the reading and closing, it was carried by yet another volunteer all through the congregation – many touching it – but not with their hands – only with their programs or booklets.

 

But more interesting, and I suppose coincidence, was where the scripture opened to and what the reading for today was.

 

As I began this Trip Around the Sun, I announced in part my disavowal of the notion that God killed little babies – included among all the firstborn of the Egyptians – for the purpose of “softening Pharaoh’s heart.” And today – for my one and only visit with the Jews – the reading would be the plagues – to the last – which was this very killing, that it is supposed took place at God’s bidding. The words were not exactly as we read in our version of the Old Testament – but substantively the same story.

 

When the formal reading was done, we were all given a few moments of silence during which we could read from our own copy of the Torah the whole story. Included there also was some commentary – similar to our Mormon version of the Bible – (Ours is simply the King James version – but with our own commentary.) But theirs included the commentary along with the verses throughout, rather than in a special section. I read some of this – and had some questions on my mind – and saw some revelations. (Not the kind from God – but of what the Jews believed.) This was all very interesting to me.

 

I’m remembering more than I thought I might – I think this whole trip has made me aware of what some of the questions are – to differentiate among religions – and that makes it easier to store and remember the meat of things.

 

After the reading, the closing, the re-entry into the Ark, and the carrying about of the Torah among the congregation, it was returned to the shelf amid the silence we are used to for prayer.

 

(I don’t mean this disrespectfully – only as a descriptor – the “Ark” was much like a very decorated and costly golf bag – about that same size and shape – perhaps a little shorter and a little fatter. In it were placed the two sticks of the large scroll – and each stick had a decorative cover put over it – very decorative. I know we refer to the two sticks together as a stick, as in the “Stick of Joseph,” but it certainly looked like two sticks to me.)

 

And just then, my dream came true – discussion. These people do this with openness and grace the likes of which I have never seen among a religious group. We say “Avoid contention,” while they say “Contend – Contend.” I have asked before, “Should we not contend for truth, as the hymn advises?” We like the story of the 12 year old Savior contending with the Priests – and confounding them. Here here! That process is wonderful – the Savior was taught as a Jew, and bless his heart, he was good at this.

 

The Jews appear to have a “bottoms up” approach to religion – depending not on the Rabbi to tell them what to believe – but to share the thoughts of all – and to grow in knowledge with some independence, though the Rabbi is quick to advise if things go too far astray.

 

Now someone brought up the question, “But why would God harden the Pharaoh’s heart – and then punish him for that very hardness? That does not seem fair.”

 

Someone else said, “But it is only the way it was written. Pharaoh’s own heart was hardened by his own personality – it was not God who hardened his heart – that’s just the way they wrote it.”

 

(Now isn’t that interesting? Just as the Joseph Smith translation dictates. Who would have known? Well – the Jews. The only difference is that our position is that it was translated improperly. The Jews appear to accept that it was written as it appears – but means something different. The error in translation occurs on our very reading of it – not due to people’s re-writing of it – yet still they conclude exactly as Joseph Smith also concluded.)

 

Some others also made comments – each a different view – or a different question. I raised my hand, and when called upon, I asked, “I’m only a visitor – Is it proper to ask questions or comment?” The enthusiasm was with the entire congregation, “Yes – of course – please – yes.” It was as if they were delighted at the prospect.

 

So I referred to the commentary I had just read. “I was always bothered by this story in the Old Testament – Whether Pharaoh hardened his own heart or not is interesting – but not nearly so bothersome to me as was the killing of the wrong people. It seems to me that God should have killed Pharaoh – not the firstborn of all of Egypt. But in the commentary included at the end of what we just read – it says, ‘We do not know whether it was a fictional or real Pharaoh who was the antagonist of Moses.’ I know this is not part of the actual Torah – but is this commentary to be taken seriously?”

 

With this, the Rabbi quickly asked, “Where? What page?” I had my finger on it. Page 456 (or whatever the page was) – the first paragraph – about half way through. I can read it – She nodded – so I read the passage in context – Here it is:

 

“Even though the plagues and many details of the life of Moses cannot be classified as ‘external’ (i.e. verifiable) history, the story of the Exodus has a historical kernel. This core consists primarily of the fact that Israel (or some portion of the people) sojourned in Egypt, suffered servitude there, and after a series of events that were later embellished in folk literature, left the land toward a new destiny. We do not know whether it was a fictional or real Pharaoh who was Moses’ antagonist.”

 

I asked again, “Is this commentary portion of our copies of the Torah to be taken seriously as beliefs of the Jews?”

 

The Rabbi answered, “Yes – this commentary is from some of the most respected and studied Rabbis.”

 

Something else was said that was most interesting. One of the opinions (Well – it was more like an opinion of a possibility – not necessarily believed but thought possible) – was that the killing of the firstborn may not have been the kind of killing we usually envision from that word. We’ve heard the word used in sentences like, “That killed that idea,” etc. The position of a firstborn was so very important in these societies – among the Jews – and among their enemies as well. There was lots of competition for this position – and in particular, when a second born was more powerful than the firstborn, he would sometimes try to make it believed that he was the firstborn. The father and mother who knew for sure were often already dead by the time the issue came up. Amidst this great confusion – growing and growing – it became so confused that the “firstborn” were destroyed in large numbers – not “killed,” in the normal sense, but killed by loss of their position. Amidst this confusion, the escape was made. No one knew who the leaders (firstborn) were, and while they were fighting amongst themselves, the Jews took their leave. Sure – wouldn’t you?

 

And when this was said, there were others who said, “yes – maybe this could have been.”

 

They often said “A’mein” – pronounced ah mane – and I supposed this was our “Amen.”

 

The Rabbi pointed out that “we,” meaning the Jews, “should not be overly happy and jubilant during Passover celebrations, about, for example, the flooding waters over the Pharaoh’s men, because those who died were also God’s children.”

 

 

(Later – during a visiting time, I asked the other Rabbi if this commentary would also be included in the versions of the Torah used by more conservative Jews. She said they also have commentary – but it would not all be the same. I believe I must also visit some who are not among the Reformed Jews.)

 

I think I may have this next part out of order – and maybe not.

 

An elderly woman was called to the front to give a talk on our subject. The Rabbi indicated that we are to expect an erudite and thorough treatment, as this woman has done several times before.

 

The woman compared the slaying of the firstborn with some of the modern tragedies. Among them the killing of girl babies in some societies. She also included child abuse, and even the holocaust. She said suicide bombers bring plagues of a similar nature.

 

(This was most interesting to me – because the “plagues” she compared were not of the nature of being from God against Israel’s enemies – but even plagues wherein the Jews were the subject of the suffering. This is important, because it puts these and even the Moses plagues in a perspective allowing that they were not brought about by God, but by men – who then, by the way they wrote it down – put them in the way of being brought about by God. Once again – exactly my own position. But I am not a Jew. I simply cannot believe that God will be pleased to have been given the credit for killing little babies.)

 

She then quoted two Democratic Presidents (refreshing?) “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

 

And she concluded: “Man has the power now to solve problems that are plagues to us in our day.”

 

After the formal meeting, they visited. They had many nice little things to eat – and little cups – sacrament size – were handed out filled with wine. It was Maneshevitz. I don’t know the spelling, but I know the taste – from having sips of this delicious mild and fruity treat in my childhood. They used it like a toast, declaring to one another “Shabbat Shalom!” (Roughly a Sabbath wish for Peace.) This was the greeting used throughout the time there – when shaking hands, etc. They had delectable little treats to eat, and visiting. A young girl came to me and asked, “You must be a Christian – calling the Torah the Old Testament.” I laughed and agreed that was my background – and that the stories of Adam and Abraham and Noah and Moses are about the same. Then the young girl introduced me to her mother – a nice Jewish woman who was just as friendly as her daughter – and the second Rabbi came to be in the conversation. That’s when I asked some of my questions, and when they all seemed so satisfied to give the best answers they could. Even when the questions are a bit challenging, they love it. It’s food for their thought, and they are unafraid.

 

Returning to my hotrod, the little lady who had given the wonderful talk was there looking it over. She asked, “But what is this car?” I told her it was a Model T Ford. “Oh, I thought maybe it was that – but did they really have these big tires – I couldn’t remember that.” “Oh no – they had much smaller skinny tires and a little tiny engine. This is a hotrod.” “Oh – Oh – that’s what my husband said it was – a hotrod!”

 

“Yes,” I said, “most husbands know these things.” She laughed. She was a delightful lady, perhaps in her eighties. I won’t forget when lovely Edith Snapp wanted a ride in the hotrod – and was excited with the brisk acceleration. Go seniors! I wanted a hotrod when I was sixteen, but my Dad wouldn’t let me buy it – even with my own money. It was a Mercury coupe with a flathead – three two-barrel carburetors. Now I’m 62 – and I have one with two four barrels and a blower – and a license plate that reads “SUN TRIP.”

 

We do have lots in common with the Jews – and even an unimportant thing like a hotrod is included.

 

 

37 of 52 – Jews – Reformed

 

(To Main Page)